FAYETTEVILLE — Jim Chaney was in charge of Purdue’s offense in 1998, when quarterback Drew Brees set NCAA records for completions (55) and passing attempts (83) in a 31-24 loss at Wisconsin.
The 50-year-old chuckled about the “pass-happy” attack when asked about some of his past moments Thursday. But Chaney, who was named Arkansas’ offensive coordinator on Wednesday, also made it clear he has other plans for the Razorbacks.
“Without any question, make no bones of that, balance is what we’re looking for all the way,” Chaney said.
Chaney spoke to the media during a teleconference a day after being introduced as the man in charge of the Arkansas offense. A couple of hours later, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema announced that another former Tennessee assistant — offensive line coach Sam Pittman — would be part of his Razorbacks staff as well.
They join defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who was with Bielema at Wisconsin, as members of Arkansas’ new staff. Both assistants remain in the Southeastern Conference after being part of former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley’s staff in 2012.
“I love this conference,” said Chaney, a Holdon, Mo., native who spent nine years at Purdue and three more with the St. Louis Rams. “I think the Southeastern Conference is by far the most competitive league, and as a competitive football coach, I was going to do everything I possibly could to remain in this setting.
“I had some friends kind of reach out to coach and let him know I had interest. We made contact over the phone and I had a chance to sit down and visit a little bit, talk about philosophy and see which direction he was wanting to go and what I wanted to do with my career. It seemed to work out pretty good.”
Chaney spent four seasons as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, while Pittman was in his first season with the program in 2012. The Volunteers struggled in 2011, but defense was the issue. The Volunteers were among the SEC’s top offenses.
Tennessee averaged 475.9 yards a game, which ranked 19th in the nation. The Vols also ranked 16th in passing yards (315.6 yards) and 23rd in scoring (36.17 points).
Quarterback Tyler Bray enjoyed a big season under Chaney’s guidance, throwing for 3,612 yards with 34 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He led the SEC in touchdown passes and was second in passing yards a game (301.0) behind Tyler Wilson (307.9). Meanwhile, the Tennessee offensive line under Pittman allowed an SEC-low eight sacks, which also was the fourth-best total in the nation.
Pittman and Chaney are long-time friends, but didn’t get to work with each other until this past season. Pittman said they enjoyed the experience.
“This year was wonderful,” Pittman said. “He’s a very knowledgeable man, a very good person. Certainly, if I didn’t care about him and think highly of him, I wouldn’t want to work with him again. I have great respect for he and his family.”
Both coaches bring recruiting prowess to Arkansas as well.
Chaney, whose top pupils have been Brees and Bray, believes one of his strengths is the evaluation process at quarterback. So the coach, who has familiarity in recruiting around the South, Texas and Missouri, said it will likely be one of his biggest responsibilities on the recruiting trail with the Razorbacks.
The 51-year-old Pittman — who graduated from Grove (Okla.) High and said he attended Arkansas games as a senior — was rated among the top 25 recruiters in the country by ESPN.com. Pittman said he enjoys the challenge of recruiting in the SEC. Bielema acknowledged it Tuesday, calling Pittman a “relentless” recruiter.
“Sam Pittman has earned a reputation as one of the finest offensive line coaches and one of the most relentless recruiters in the nation,” Bielema said in the press release. “His time with Jim Chaney is another bonus as we move forward with the development of our offensive philosophy. He has been a part of great programs where he played a major role in assembling highly ranked recruiting classes.
“He has demonstrated the ability to help linemen make remarkable improvement in a short amount of time. He also is able to relate to his players and simplify the game for them, which will benefit our aggressive offensive attack.”
Together, the two coaches will work to shape an Arkansas offense that struggled in 2012 and is moving on without stars like quarterback Tyler Wilson, running back Knile Davis, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton and tight end Chris Gragg.
Chaney — who said he has run everything from the spread to the triple option to a pro-style offense during his career as a coordinator — said the Razorbacks will be physical up front and at the running back position. But he stressed that multiplicity and balance are vital to the attack, needing to move the ball through the air as well.
He and Pittman will build the offense around returning players like center Travis Swanson, running back Jonathan Williams, fullback Kiero Small, quarterbacks Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell and receiver Mekale McKay.
“There’s talent there,” Chaney said. “There’s talent everywhere in this conference. But you’ve got to put it together and mold it and do as good as you possibly can to produce enough points to win football games.”
Salary Figures Released
Arkansas has released the letters of agreement for the three hired assistants.
Chaney will be paid $550,000 annually through June 30, 2016, while Ash also will earn $550,000 annually through June 30, 2015. Pittman will earn $275,000 annually and is working under a contract that stretches to June 30, 2014.
Chaney also will be paid $600,000 by Tennessee over the next year in addition to his Arkansas salary, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
By comparison, Arkansas coordinators Paul Petrino and Paul Haynes earned $475,000 last year. Offensive line coach Chris Klenakis earned $266,420.
Each letter of agreement includes buyout terms. Chaney and Ash would owe the school $100,000 prorated over the term of the agreement if they left for other jobs, while Pittman would have to pay $50,000. Chaney’s letter of agreement includes a clause in which he would be paid the remainder of his salary if ever dismissed.